Historically, it was only the roadside where you’d find a food truck, but as they’ve increased in popularity and transformed the food choices from just the humble layby burger to more inventive and gourmet meals on wheels, things have changed, and that includes where you can operate. It’s not just the motorway you’ll see mobile catering vans nowadays, but industrial estates, festivals, big events and weekend markets too.
Whilst this all sounds exciting and full of possibilities, the question of ‘how do I start?’ may be playing on your mind. I understand that it can be daunting, especially when rules differ in different areas but that’s what I’m here for. I’ve created this guide to provide you with an idea of how to answer those niggling questions you have regarding catering pitches and how you can get started.
The different kinds of catering pitch
Now, I’m going to cover the main three different types of catering pitches and that’s roadside, industrial estates and festivals or large-scale events.
The first two speak for themselves, a roadside catering pitch will be found on the side of a road, typically along a stretch of motorway or busy A-road. An industrial estate pitch will be located on, you guessed it, an industrial estate. These are favoured because you can catch the trade from other businesses, for example, builders merchants.
If you favour wanderlust and don’t like to be tied down to one ‘spot’, then a pitch at a festival or large-scale event could be the one for you. As long as you have the vehicle, equipment, stock, staff and money to cover the pitch fee, you’re good to go! You can follow the beat and reap the rewards of the British festival season.
How to get a catering pitch
Your starting place will differ depending on the chosen pitch.
For a roadside pitch, it’s a case of finding an available area or one for sale. Pitches being sold can often be found online. If you aren’t buying an existing pitch, you’ll need to be granted permission by the council and follow their rules – we’ll get onto that later though.
When looking at industrial estates, you’ll need to find an available spot, discuss taking it on and your intentions with the landowner and put a contract in place. Finally, research into the area legislations and rules set by the council.
It’s when we get to festivals that things are a little different. Firstly, you need to get your spot booked. This can be done by contacting the organiser, the earlier the better – especially if you’re looking to score a pitch at one of the popular ones. To apply, contact the festival organisers, whether that's via their website or over the phone. They’ll usually want to know your personal and business details, what you sell, dimensions of your vehicle and electrical requirements, as well as pictures of your set-up – this is a great time to sell your business to make sure you secure that spot.
Then, there’s the fee. I mentioned it very briefly earlier but to be able to attend a festival, you will have to pay a pitch fee, and this will probably be one of your biggest outlays. If your application is submitted, you’ll be sent a contract that will include the figure. It will vary depending on the size and scale of the festival.
If it’s a local, small affair you’ll probably get away with a fee of a couple hundred pounds. It’s when you start looking at the bigger boys like Glastonbury or Reading and Leeds that you could see this price has several zeros added onto the end. At this point, it’s sensible to evaluate the situation and ask yourself can I really afford to attend? Especially important if you’ve only just started up and it’s your first rodeo.
If all that wasn’t enough you could also face a few bumps in the road, not literally (or, actually, maybe depending on the area) but there will be challenges that will need to be considered, too.
In the past, roadside catering has been frowned upon because of thoughts that it causes disruptions to traffic – it doesn’t matter if you want to get a cuppa from your favourite roadside burger van, you don’t want to mess with a commuter trying to get to the office early, trust me! Back to my point though, because of these disruptions some areas might change where you can and can’t set up shop so, as I already mentioned, research is vital. You don’t want to turn up somewhere and find out you can’t sell.
On top of that, because this industry is proving to be so successful, the competition will be stiff. Therefore, with more competition and less space to trade, the need to stand out and offer something different has never been so important. You’ll need to stick your thinking cap on and look for out-of-the-box ideas that will set you and your business apart.
What you’ll need to adhere to
It would be amazing if you could just roll up and start trading wherever you like, we all like to be spontaneous but there are rules and legislations that local councils have put in place to keep you and others safe, and the area working orderly. The criteria will differ depending on the area and type of catering pitch you’re looking for but it’s vital that you adhere to them as you could face a rather large fine or even a visit from the police.
If it’s a roadside pitch or industrial estate, you’ll need to check out the local by-laws. For reasons we’ve just discussed, some areas won’t allow roadside catering, and, for others, you might need a street trading licence – especially if you’ve started your business from scratch, compared to buying an existing business or pitch.
When it comes to large-scale events and festivals, they will have their own set of rules which you will receive once you have paid your pitch fee.
Whatever your choice though, you want to grab a paper, pen, Word document or blank note on your phone and get researching and note-taking.
As you can see, there are lots to think about when looking to start a mobile catering business. If you want some help deciding whether it’s right for you, take a read of our Pros and Cons of a Mobile Catering Business article.
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